When Ti West gave the world X, his tribute to slasher films of the independent 70’s generation none of us could have guessed that the film would spawn a spin-off prequel. Let alone that said prequel would be the next step in cementing a new horror icon in the genre. But when West was out in Australia filming X he, his now new muse Mia Goth and a24 all sat down and said fuck it let’s do one more. If you haven’t seen X (fix that) then you must know that in a slew of potential bodies lies Mia Goth playing double duty as both Maxine, one of the victims and Pearl an 80 something year old who has a taste for blood. And while we learn a little bit about Pearl’s once dreams to be a hollywood star we never got the full picture. Enter PEARL a deranged and grandiose tribute to the golden age of Hollywood that once again stars Mia Goth this time around as a young Pearl. When PEARL was first announced as a teaser at the end of X it seemed like a fun gimmick, or even a DVD bonus feature for those that still partake. Thankfully and to no surprise West has delivered a fully fleshed and well-constructed film for his star to shine even more. PEARL is not what happens when you want to cash in on an already good idea, but instead when you know you can grow it beyond its potential. To truly home in on that X factor.
Pearl (Mia Goth) is destined to get off her family’s farm in Texas. The year is 1918 and she spends her days taking care of her comatose father (Matthew Sunderland), avoiding her cruel German mother (Tandi Ruth) and killing her pet goose to feed to a gator down by the river. Yes it would appear that Pearl’s murderous ways were not something that happened over time. Pearl has always been this way and even if she hopes of being a movie star it is her anger and rampage that may be her true calling. Goth is a revelation as Pearl, showing off her impressive skills (and wonderful farm girl accent) from X, but cranking it up to eleven. Imagine if Dorothy had a horny serial killer of a cousin and you sort of find yourself at Pearl. Goth rocking overalls and a bandana keeps the same innocence, but it is more comical this time around. Its hard to think of someone as naïve when they want to murder their parents.
PEARL also finds Ti West expanding his filmmaking techniques in ways we have yet to see from the mublegore director. Here is a wide scope film beaming with colors and energy. Gone is the gritty and super 8 feel of X. Pearl wants to be up in the lights and see herself as one of the perfect chorus line girls as she puts it. But she doubts herself there’s no way she could ever be a major star not even when a handsome projectionist (David Corenswet) tries to convince her otherwise. It also doesn’t help that Pearl must repress any sexual urges she feels for the men who walks by since she is married and awaiting her husband to return from the war. But Pearl has big feelings and strong urges, and even if she can’t fully act on them that doesn’t stop her from having her way with a nearby scarecrow she stumbles upon. The film may be pervasive but gone is any major shock value. Instead it wants you to feel every bit of need that Pearl has even if it does not ask you to empathize…not yet that is.
Pearl for all her devious ways is not far from many of the young women of her era promised of a better big motion picture life. Whether it be the projectionist who shows her German pornography and believes she could fit right into this style of film, or the travelling audition that comes to town that gives girls hope that they will be taken far away. But every setback for Pearl doesn’t just cause her to feel defeated it forces her to act on it. In ways that may appear deranged (they are) but they come from a woman who has been broken down in so many ways. PEARL has a few surprises up its sleeve but not in the way that you’d expect from a horror film. Blood does flow, but sporadically and instead chooses to be a deeper character study of a woman who hides behind her wide grin. Goth delivers a performance that solidifies her as a horror icon and not just for the killings. Think Anthony Perkins in Psycho, it is in the talking that we see the real pain and blood lust. A monologue given late in the film is more than enough to prove that Ti West and Goth have something truly special here. A chance to not just grow a character even further but continue their working partnership to create some truly impactful horror. (by the time this review was updated a24 and Ti West have announced a third film titled MAXXXINE also starring Goth reprising her X role) Pearl with its grandiose score, stunning imagery and a dance number or two is the kind of film that has you begging for more. Not to give us some sort of X cinematic universe, but rather to see a filmmaker and star continue on their journey of making sure their creation’s name is always remembered. After all being a star is what she deserves.
PEARL WILL BE RELEASED IN THEATERS SEPTEMBER 16